In approaching Sure Thing! – a solo exhibition by Cape Town-based artist Mitchell Gilbert Messina at blank projects, I’m drawing from Lawrence Weiner’s sentiment: “The only art I’m interested in is the art I don’t understand right away. If you understand it right away it really has no use except as nostalgia.”
The exhibition, which took the form of a studio residency as well as interventions, improvisations and installation, reframes conventional forms of “exhibitions” and encourages a new level of interaction. Messina exquisitely renders ideas and gestures that encourage us to examine, revise and stretch accepted principles, tools and methods of art production. It is simultaneously a How-To, an If-To and a Why-To! The language of material and the material of language intersect and create space for cocreation in meaning-making. Staged and fictional narratives are elemental while execution is a largely perfunctory affair.
Art is often about the addition of new objects into the world or more interestingly (as in the case of Sure Thing!) it can be about arrangements and misarrangements of already exiting objects within the (art)world in ways that upend existing logics. A set of unriddled and adaptable instructions —produce software for curating virtual exhibitions with existing collections or produce a series of paintings with the express purpose of selling them —function as a rejection of mystery that often hinders access to art production and art discourse. Messina offers up these instructions which then in turn collapse territories of (re) production and re (imagination). This methodology is widely used in other fields, for instance; within the digital realm, makers often create free and open artefacts that are software and device-independent. The equivalent in the art context would be open source creation of art that is institution-independent and furthermore independent from closely defined art historical and canonical modes of creation.
In a sense, Sure Thing! develops literacies around knowledge production and art production that then enable us to speak critically and confidently about what it is we are attempting to produce and why.
Sure Thing! can be read as an exhibition but it can also be read as technology —in so far as technology is the application of knowledge for practical purposes in a specific industry. Using dry ice pellets, plaster and a tripod, we learn how to build a volcano that wrecks a gallery or how to re-engineer a model of monetisations of art objects (in this case paintings) where the monetisation can fund the production of more project-orientated and dematerialised work. Messina instructs; 1. Figure out the practicalities of producing and find the path of least resistance. Acrylic on board is possibly the least intimidating entry point, with quick drying allowing more time to figure out how to paint. Stick to a production template initially: resolve measurements and get the wood cut to size, use the mitre for angle cuts on the ends, work up the sanding grits and prime.
The dynamic composition of ideas, scenarios and instructions function as apparatus for anyone who is interested in making. Making as both a consideration of hypothesis and theories of production (thought experiments) as well as hands-on pragmatic production (if you ever want to build a volcano or curate a digital exhibition).